Despite what many in our field might think, commercial real estate isn’t just about sales; it’s about building relationships. As our industry expands and the tools available to us evolve, so too must our approach to business.
As a commercial REALTOR, I find that we are consistently lagging behind our colleagues on the residential side of the market in making the best use of emerging digital resources. It’s unwise to expect your firm to do the marketing for you; today, everyone has the opportunity to brand themselves using social platforms like Twitter, personal websites and SEO-rich blogs.
I recently asked a few friends – Dave Cattell, founder of NewDirt.com, a site that matches commercial property sellers with buyers; Linda Day Harrison, founder of TheBrokerList.com, an online networking tool for commercial real estate professionals; and Matt Chapdelaine, founder of CommercialConnected.com, a sales and leasing platform, and HerbFront.com, a real estate exchange for the legal cannabis industry – what advice they had for commercial real estate professionals about using and improving digital resources. Here is what they had to say.
- Technology will not replace you; it will make you better.
One of the biggest misconceptions commercial REALTORS have about emerging technology is that it will make them obsolete. Not so, says Harrison. “Technology is not advanced enough to replace human interaction, which is essential in the service industry.” Chapdelaine agrees. “Both of my real estate technology companies are built around the principle that only when the best technology is matched with skilled human operators can value be maximized in both revenue and results.”
- Using technology is no longer optional.
There are still some in the commercial real estate world who hope digital and social tools are just a fad. But Cattell says they are essential to doing business today. “It is critically important for those in our industry to learn to navigate in a changing business environment. “ And if you decide to sit out, someone is happy to take your place. “Your competitors are promoting themselves, so you have to keep up to be relevant,” says Chapdelaine.
- This is just the beginning.
Harrison sees technology as a time-saver, not a time-waster. “It used to be that our workday was full of redundancies, but today’s devices and online tools save us so much time. It helps us do more with less.” And there’s plenty more to look forward to. “Commercial real estate technologies are coming to market faster than ever before. What was an empty field five years ago has become very busy over the last two years,” says Chapdelaine. Cattell hopes technology will not only lead to better business practices but also to new ways of thinking. When it comes to properties, “I’d like to see the mentality change from browse and search to match and submit,” Cattell says.
- Find what works for you.
There are no one-size-fits-all approaches to using technology in commercial real estate, or even a general consensus on how to use them. For example, Cattell thinks it’s less about the broker and more about the property. “Promote the properties you are marketing. Don’t worry about being a name. Nobody cares who the broker is.” Harrison, on the other hand, thinks branding yourself as a commercial real estate professional is key. “Keep your name consistent on everything. Select a tagline that says what you are about and associate it with everything you do.” Chapdelaine advocates a route that works both for marketing listings and personal brands. “Try a lot of things and see what works. Know who you’re trying to get in front of and then focus on a platform that reaches that audience.”
- You can be a part of the evolution, too.
Each of the companies Cattell, Harrison and Chapdelaine founded was born out of a necessity for a better approach. They each say that for our industry to advance and prosper, new ideas and techniques are needed to replace outmoded ways and mindsets. “I was the corporate guy who received hundreds of unsolicited site submittals every week,” says Cattell. “Not one of those people learned our site selection criteria; they just threw stuff at the wall and hoped something would stick. I knew there had to be a better way. NewDirt.com has the capability to tell brokers or agents within seconds which brand’s criteria match their sites or space attributes. It’s a win-win situation.” Harrison was inspired by frustration, as well. “As a practitioner, one of the hardest parts of marketing our properties was constantly keeping our listings in front of brokers. To eliminate unnecessary inefficiencies, we created an opt-in tool that allows you to reach out to the brokers you need to target.” And sometimes a great business idea can come from unexpected places. “HerbFront.com started off as a predictive mapping and zoning platform. The process of identifying undervalued properties has always been a challenge and it’s something no one was working on, so I saw a need and tried to fill it. Initially, I wasn’t considering the regulated cannabis industry as my first vertical, but when I took a deeper look at the once-in-a- generation opportunity for massive growth, it became impossible to ignore.”
So whether you are a novice just starting out online or a technology-minded entrepreneur, there are plenty of opportunities to improve your business – or even start a new one. The key is thinking of technology not as something separate from or in addition to your current marketing strategy but rather an integral part of it.
To hear more about digital resources, join me for the eResources Panel for Commercial Professionals on Friday, June 19, 2015, at 6655 Main St., Downers Grove, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Call 630.324.8414 to reserve your spot. The cost is $10 for Mainstreet Organization of REALTORSÒ (MORe) members and $20 for non-MORe members.
Kristian K. Lee is Vice President of Suburban Real Estate Services and Chair of the Mainstreet Organization of REALTORSÒ Commercial Alliance.
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